Federal government to send health-care workers, rapid COVID-19 tests to Ontario

MONTREAL — The federal government announced it was mobilizing its own resources and co-ordinating with lesser-hit provinces to send health-care workers and other support to help Ontario as it battles record-breaking COVID-19 numbers.

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc told a news conference that the federal government will co-ordinate and cover all the cost of relocating health-care workers who are sent to help from other provinces, including by using military aircraft.

Some Atlantic provinces are expected to provide estimates of the number of personnel they can send in the next day or two, he said, adding the federal government is also drawing up lists of available staff that could be deployed from departments such as national defence and immigration.

LeBlanc held a media availability along with Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, Health Minister Patty Hajdu, and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair to announce emergency aid for the hard-hit province.

Leblanc told The Canadian Press in an interview that the federal government decided to take a “leadership role” after Ontario reached out to other provinces and territories for assistance.

Ottawa has offered to cover the costs of health-care personnel deployed from elsewhere to help in Ontario, Leblanc said.

“Newfoundland is hoping by tomorrow or Tuesday to have a clear picture of the first tranche,” Leblanc said. “The same thing is true with the other Atlantic provinces.”

It wasn’t immediately clear how the Ontario government would respond to Ottawa’s offer.

The Ontario government appeared on Friday to reject Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s offer to mobilize several mobile vaccination clinics through the Canadian Red Cross to help the province get injections in arms.

Trudeau said in a video update earlier Sunday that health workers employed by federal government departments would be redeployed to Ontario, and the Greater Toronto Area in particular. The timeline for any such deployment was unclear.

LeBlanc said both he and Trudeau had spoken with several premiers across the country who expressed concern about the situation in Ontario and voiced an interest in helping.

“I think at a moment like this, the whole country says to itself, ‘What can we do to help the people of Ontario?” Leblanc said.

He added that Dr. Allison Furey, the wife of Newfoundland and Labrador’s premier, would be part of the Atlantic contingent heading to Ontario.

Speaking earlier in the video he posted to social media, Trudeau said he had discussed Ontario’s plight with the premiers of Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.

“They are working hard to determine what human resources and equipment they could free up over the coming days,” he said.

He said the federal government will also work with Ontario cities to deploy rapid tests to hard-hit locations.

His statement came as hospitalizations and admissions to intensive care units continued to reach record heights in Ontario, which reported 4,250 new COVID-19 infections in the the last 24 hours.

Premier Doug Ford announced a number of new restrictions to quell the skyrocketing numbers, but has faced pressure to roll back limits on outdoor activities, which critics have said will do little to stop the spread.

Meanwhile, data released by Canada’s chief public health officer shows that the average daily number of hospitalizations and deaths in the country jumped by more than 30 per cent between April 9 and 15 compared to the week before.

The latest national-level data found that an average of 3,428 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent seven-day reporting period, representing a 34 per cent increase over the week before.

An average of 41 people died each day during the same period, which is 38 per cent higher than the previous week.

Dr. Theresa Tam said cases, test positivity rates and intensive care admissions are all rising as Canada battles a wave of COVID-19 that is driven by more contagious variants.

Quebec, meanwhile, reported more than 1,300 new infections in the past 24 hours.

Prince Edward Island reported three new cases, while Nova Scotia logged seven and New Brunswick added 10.

Farther west, Manitoba recorded 170 new cases of the virus and one added death, while Saskatchewan counted 289 new cases and one death.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 18, 2021

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